‘Marketers must swap tactics for strategy to remain relevant in the board room’

Marketing has to fly the flag for the customer and make itself indispensable to the rest of the business so it is seen as more than just a cost centre, says Raoul Pinnell.


The dawn of my career was with Heinz. I sold baked beans during the day and studied at night. My first lesson: the original Mr Heinz took dried horseradish (added value) to market (where he got instant feedback) and returned to his home town, not with an empty wagon, but a pay load (extra margin) of other goods.

I then had the joy of serving customers by bringing their voices into the boardroom while working for Nestlé, Prudential, NatWest and Shell. I have been working longer than Marketing Week has been in existence.

So how was marketing seen decades ago? It was in danger of being hijacked by advertising with a focus on ‘problems’ that were solved by ‘solutions’ presented in creative messages, rather than in meeting the real needs of customers. Mercifully, marketing’s role developed into flying the flag of the customer. Interpreting consumer research was key. The mantra became ‘putting the customer first’.

We should seize the strategic high ground, not just the tactical battleground. Without a customer there is no business.

For marketing to survive, it has to add value. If it can’t, forget it. At Prudential, for example, we embedded ‘plain English’ into our policy documents – little cost, but highly valued by clients.

To have influence, we have to cuddle up to finance. At Shell, we had to get to grips with intangible assets; for example, royalties – how to value them and how to charge for them. Hey presto, finance directors started to see marketing as more than just a cost centre.

We should seize the strategic high ground, not just the tactical battleground. Without a customer there is no business. Why would a business need a strategy director or management consultants if the CEO has used marketing to share, develop, get buy-in and communicate the future direction of the company?

Marketing needs to get out more, as friend or foe, and be acknowledged by shareholders, fellow directors and the populace as an integrative force that helps to deliver sustainable businesses.

In my twilight years, I am involved as a non-executive in the health sector. Does the NHS need marketing? At Bromley Healthcare, we have some of the highest patient recommendation scores in the country and live within our budgets, which 70% of the NHS seems unable to do. So yes, all sectors need marketing. It’s the product and the service: get it right, get it efficient and you win.

As told to Michael Barnett

Raoul Pinnell was chairman at Shell Brands International and marketing director at NatWest and Prudential. He is now chairman at Bromley Healthcare.